On May 8th, in the village of San Miguel Chicaj, Baja Verapaz, the Achi-Mayan community radio station, Uqul Tinamit "The Voice of the People," was raided by national police forces; their equipment confiscated and one member of the station arrested and fined. Cultural Survival has worked closely with this station over the 6 years of our work in the Community Radio Project, and called on the government to immediately release of Mr. Espinoza Ixtapa and the return of the seized equipment. Since the raid, various sectors of the community have spoken out in defense of the community radio station that has had to shut its doors.
The independent journalist, Marvin Gonzalez, said that “the actions constitute the most crude form of criminalizing the freedom of expression. An act of this nature shows once again that Indigenous Peoples are forbidden their human rights, sending them the message that they can’t access radio frequencies or any other means of communication. It’s shameful that in Guatemala justice is determined by the interests of certain powerful groups,” he was quoted by CERIGUA.
Noe Ismalej, a member of the radio station’s team, explained: “Since its beginnings, Uqul Tinamit’s primary goal has been to communicate about topics relevant to the Achi Mayan people; its programming was developed with a focus on education and raising people’s awareness on how our people’s rights have been denied across years.”
Gregorio Garcia, the catholic priest of the local parish in San Miguel, indicated that with the closing of this radio, the voice of an entire community is being silenced. He explained that the radio has done humanitarian work in solidarity with the community members that are affected by malnutrition, families in poverty that need assistance during emergencies, and responding to calls for help during natural disasters. "We feel very sad, very hurt. They have taken away our voice. We won't be informed of what's happening in our town. As a church, I see the necessity and the role that the radio played in helping the elderly, the poor... Hopefully the government will take this in consideration, instead of falling to the pressure of the monopolies. That's what happens. They take away the ability to broadcast, even though the radio was providing a service to the community." Watch an interview with Garcia, in Spanish, here.
Lucía González Alvarado, an Indigenous women's activist from the institution DEMI commented, "It is worrisome that the government is violating the rights of Indigenous peoples, as community radio is a form of alternative media for the people. Meanwhile, the authorities, through their actions, show that they are trying to shut us up."
In a press statement, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression denounced the government's actions to shut down the community radio stations. He reminded the State of Guatemala that the country's current laws of telecommunications discriminate against the poor and rural sectors of the population. Meanwhile, the Bill 4087, which proposed to change that law, has remained in congress without substantial advances for the last two and a half years. He reiterated that Articles 13, 15, and 16 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples establish the right to freedom of expression, transmission of culture, and to their own forms of media. "It is our opinion that the use of unauthorized radio frequencies does not constitute a crime." he stated. The statement urged the congress to "take legislative steps that create a fair and necesary balance between community controlled media, commercial media, and public media." See his op/ed in Guatemala's newspaper the Prensa Libre, from May 25th.
To continue their programing, the Uqul Tinamit has begun broadcasting online and continues to share information with the community through its Facebook page. (Read more about the use of Facebook among community radio stations here)
Cultural Survival's Network of Community Radio Stations produced the following statement in solidarity with their sister stations Uqul Tinamit and Jun Toj which were both raided last week. The message has broadcast across 80 stations. Listen to the radio spot below, with translation into English:
Please take action in solidarity with the Network of Community Radio Stations in Guatemala. Write en email to the president of congress urging the legalization of community radio in Guatemala.